Professor Walid Phares at the Heritage Foundation: Green Movement, Orange Revolution, Cedar Revolution, and the Arab Spring

Walid Phares is an American scholar of Lebanese origins. He is a professor and commentator on global terrorism and Middle East affairs. In the video, Professor Walid discusses the connections between the Green Movement of Iran and its predecessors: the Orange Revolution of Ukraine and the Cedar Revolution of Lebanon.  In addition, the linkage between the Green Movement and the subsequent Arab Spring is clearly delineated.

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Roots of Internet-organized Revolutions: The Cedar Revolution of Lebanon

The Cedar Revolution or Independence Intifada (shaking off), was the culmination of a series of events ending in the car bomb assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri along with 21 others on February 14, 2005.   The Lebanese had grown increasingly weary of the Syrians, since their military occupation of nearly 30 years.  Hariri’s assassination, widely seen as the work of the Syrians, was the boiling point for the Lebanese public.

Just a week after the attack, tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens gathered at the site of the bombing, to protest against Syrian control of their country. The protesters held the pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, and Syria itself, accountable for the murders; they began shouting anti-Syrian and anti-government slogans— an unknown occurrence in Lebanon previously.

Two hundred fifty thousand people came to the funeral at the Martyr’s Square in downtown Beirut, the largest public space in the city. Opposition parties began organizing street mobilizations.  Marches took place near Hariri’s grave every night as well as open demonstrations and vigils around Beirut. The protestors wore red and white scarves, held placards with the image of the Lebanese cedar tree, and chanted slogans.  The Christians and Muslims of Lebanon were united in cause.

Despite Lebanon’s bloody political history, the Cedar Revolution chose a path of nonviolent civic engagement to achieve four main objectives: 1. resignation of the ruling Lebanese government 2. military withdrawal of the Syrians 3. resignation of the heads of the intelligence services, and 4. an international UN tribunal to investigate Hariri’s death.*

The protestors used cell phones, email, and public announcements to mobilize people to attend the demonstrations and vigils that took place at various locations around Beirut every day. This activity reached a climax in late February and early March as many businesses shut down to join the marches. The government banned the protests but they continued on, and the troops and police were unable or unwilling to enforce the bans.

According to Phil Seib in Reconnecting the World: How New Media Technologies May Help Change Middle East Politics:

Regional/international coverage—such as is provided by Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, among others—could provide information to Lebanese audiences with less concern about political repercussions that might deter some indigenous media organizations. By showing the size and energy of the protests, such coverage helped fuel the demonstrations and encouraged broader pressure for Syrian withdrawal.

Patterns of ICT Usage in Lebanon (2004)**, indicates that “Nearly 65 percent of all individuals surveyed indicated some level of use of computers…and over 79 percent of computer users in Lebanon use the Internet to some degree. At this rate, Lebanon ranks highly among developing countries and especially among its peers in the Middle East and North Africa region.”

On February 28, pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami resigned turning the tide towards democracy.  Days later on March 2, Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad announced the complete withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.  Hezbollah, the largest Shi’ite party in Lebanon and a supporter of the Assad regime, organized a demonstration on March 8, attracting half a million supporters.  Five days later, the opposition gathered an estimated 1.2 million Lebanese, more than a quarter of the country’s population, to Martyrs’ Square. They used the Internet, television, and SMS to create the mass mobilization.***

*https://tavaana.org/viewcasestudy.jsp?pageId=2071502000341264606266439&lang=en&restrictids=nu_repeatitemid&restrictvalues=2071502000341295633894832#_edn3

**http://www.pca.org.lb/docs/FINAL%20-%20Patterns%20of%20ICT%20Usage%20in%20Lebanon.pdf

***http://www.lokashakti.org/encyclopedia/movements/710-lebanons-cedar-revolution

Roots of Internet-organized Revolutions: The Orange Revolution of Ukraine

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Information Communications Technology (ICT) played a critical role in the Iranian Green Movement, by mobilizing protestors and facilitating communication with the rest of the world.  Thanks to websites such as Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter, people across the world bore witness to the murder of Neda as well as many other protestors.  This active role of ICT in a major uprising has its roots in the Ukraine and Lebanon.

The Orange Revolution of Ukraine in 2004 and The Cedar Revolution of Lebanon in 2005 are early examples of Internet-organized revolutions.  These revolutions were heavily driven by citizen journalism, which involves members of the public actively collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information through the internet and social media.  Such news was previously limited in scope and depth due to the presence of media filters- news was available through journalists from the foreign press who sometimes risked their lives for their daring coverage of civil unrest.

The Orange Revolution is strikingly similar to the Green Movement of Iran in its cause and its use of ICT.  Joshua Goldstein, a graduate research assistant at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, examines in The Role of Digital Networked Technologies in the Ukranian Orange Revolution (2007) how the Internet and SMS technology influenced the outcome of the political process in Ukraine, and in broader terms how these technologies can be utilized to achieve democracy.

In November 2004, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets in peaceful protest of massive presidential electoral fraud.  The incumbent authoritarian president Leonid Kuchma’s hand-picked successor Victor Yanukovych won against a widely supported Victor Yushchenko.  As Prime Minister in the 1990s, Yuschenko had a strong track record with the public.  He developed measures to keep down inflation and stimulate economic growth, while delivering various social services to public servants who neither had been paid nor received pensions.

The roots of the Orange Revolution lie in the murder of  Internet-based opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze.  As a radio and television journalist, Gongadze had refused to participate in self censorship and lost his job several times.  In April 2000, to circumvent the government’s suppression of freedom of speech, Gongadze co-founded the Ukrainian Pravda (truth), the first popular online news web site in Ukraine.  Gongadze mysteriously disappeared in September 2000, and two months later his headless body was found in a shallow grave outside Kyiv.  Soon after the body was discovered, Socialist party leader Olexandr Moroz, while speaking on the floor of parliament, accused President Kuchma of orchestrating the murder.  The government’s reaction to the Gongadze incident was the first time that many Ukrainians had heard of the Internet.

According to Goldstein, “One of the most fascinating questions about the Orange Revolution is how the Internet became such an influential tool when such a small percentage of the Ukrainian population was online.”  In 2004, it is estimated that only between two to four percent of the Ukrainian population of 48 million had access to the Internet.

The Two-Step Flow Theory (1955), developed by sociologists Katz and Lazardsfield, portrays a “two step” information path.  The first step is the direct path between mass media and the general public, while the second path is among the elite opinion makers who strongly influence the opinions of the general public.  It was found that the citizens with access to online media were very well-connected, allowing an effective flow of information.  The Ukrainians online were more active in not only seeking, gathering, and disseminating information than their American counterparts, but also more influential in organizing locally based fund raisers and events.

It is important to note that the Ukrainian legal system at the time viewed the Internet as a peer-to-peer communication tool rather than a mass media platform.  While traditional journalists faced the threat of defamation charges, many online journalists were free from this threat.  The government had not reached a consensus on how to silence journalists on this new medium.  The status quo party was unsophisticated in their use of the Internet, mostly limited to paid supporters who disrupted message boards.  Lastly, the Ukrainian youth who greatly comprised the effective online network were generally too young to remember Soviet brutally against the Ukrainians.  This probably added to the effectiveness of the Internet as an influential instrument.

The Orange Revolution, named after the color of Yushchenko’s “Our Ukraine” campaign, resulted from the Internet as a means to inform, communicate, and organize,  in addition to a combination of other variables, in this case weighing on the side of democracy.

Neda : An Iranian Martyr [BBC Documentary]

Where is my vote?: The Iranian Green Movement, Neda, and Social Media

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On June 13, 2009, huge demonstrations erupted on the streets of Tehran, resulting in the biggest unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  The cause was very clear: injustice resulting from the 2009  Iranian presidential elections declaring incumbent Ahmadinejad victorious by a two-thirds majority.  There were accounts of widespread rigging at poll offices by government Basijis or militia.  Mobile video footage of these incidents substantiate such suspicions.

By June 15, the demonstrations grew from a few hundred people to hundreds of thousands spurred by a rally organized by Mir-Hossain Mousavi in his first public appearance after the election.  It was widely assumed by the protestors that Mousavi, a Reformist, had been robbed of the presidency.  Many of the Iranian protestors consisted of the disillusioned youth, who in turn account for the majority of the Iranian population.  The protestors were not necessarily supporters of Mousavi, but rather opposed the rule of Ahmadinejad and the Ultra-Conservative.  They had viewed the election as a sham and a complete betrayal of their natural right to vote.

Fearing further escalation, the government acted quickly to crush the demonstrations by arresting, brutally beating, and killing peaceful protestors.  Those suspected of laying the foundations of the protests were also arrested.  As foreign journalists were arrested and detained for fermenting opposition, social media such as Facebook and Twitter transmitted images of human rights violations across the world.  A green Facebook page gathered information about the innocent people killed, and collected videos of murder scenes during the revolts.  Ahmadinejad and the government denied everything as fabrications of the West and the Zionist regime.  Government officials and the Basijis moved into private residences and took away satellite dishes, censored the internet using various filters, and even monitored mobile phone conversations with the assistance of Nokia Siemens Networks.

On June 20, 2009, at around 6:30 p.m., Nedā Āghā-Soltān, an innocent 26 year old female student was shot in the chest while stopping on her way to participate in the protests.  Images of Neda’s brutal death were captured by amateur mobile video, and immediately made its way across the world through social media and the internet.  Neda became an instant martyr, and her bleeding image became the symbol of the Iranian Green Movement.  An outpouring of outrage, sorrow, and sympathy resulted throughout the world.  Placards were designed with the slogan “We are Neda!”  U2, Roger Waters, and many other artists paid tributes to Neda and the innocent killed during their concerts.  Neda’s image quickly became an international icon just like the student in front of the tank on Tiananmen Square.